Slodgey victory over Villains

Arsenal played Aston Villa Wednesday evening. Funnily (to me), they are referred to as “Villains.” Aston Villa was the team Arsenal played on the last day of the the 2016 season that we were lucky enough to attend. They had already been relegated by the time of the match, and what most of that team had to play for was the opportunity to be picked up by an alternate team remaining in the Premier League. Although Aston Villa put up an early fight in that match, Arsenal beat them handily in the end. That happened to be the last time Mikel Arteta (our current manager) played in before he retired. He was instrumental in the last goal scored, although it ultimately when down as an own goal.

Aston Villa won promotion back to the Premier League a few seasons ago. Although they sat in relegation territory after the first 4 matches this year, they had played some relatively tough teams and came away with 1 tie and 3 very narrow losses. Although they seem to be struggling to score goals, they have equally been doing a good job of keeping goals out of their own net.

We met a fellow Arsenal fan friend for dinner before the match and walked to the stadium afterward. Fun to walk among all those fans. Looking at the fellow walkers, it was abundantly clear that the 2022 merchandise is very, very popular. At first I was not a very big fan of the home jersey (it has a collar, which seems strange, a bit nerdish and not fearsome). It’s been growing on me. And the 3rd, pink jersey…..when I first saw it I was all “no way, what were they thinking?” And after two matches played in it, and seeing many local fans in it, I am all “where can I buy this?” 

 I do know exactly where I can buy it. However, Security was super tight Wednesday and I was lucky to be in my seat in time for kickoff. Some other time. I see that Arsenal have started touting a new green and yellow warmup top this week. It’s pretty sweet. Who knows what they will convince me of by the time I’m back?

Aston Villa came in and did what a team like that should strategically do: slow things down, destroy rhythm, and be very, very physical. It was very similar to the last match on Saturday against Fulham, and quite successful. 

That does not, however, make it easy to watch. I was hoping for a match that would make me feel quickly secure and then enjoy a bunch of pretty goals. Instead we worked hard to get the first goal about 30 minutes in. Gabriel Jesus scored a scrappy goal following a rebounded shot by Granit Xhaka. And then, we struggled to make anything else happen. The refereeing was universally terrible, which made the physicality of the match concerning for the future. Arsenal already have injury trouble among defensive midfielders.

Into the second half, the Villains managed a goal on a corner kick. The kicker, Douglas Luiz, put it in the net himself, a rare phenomena, aided by what looked like interference by a teammate on our keeper, Aaron Ramsdale. The referee did not see it that way, nor did VAR. Fortunately, it ended up not being a talking point at all because Arsenal managed to squeak in a second goal about 10 minutes later. Gabriel Martinelli, who had a very good match, put up a tricky, high shot that the Aston Villa keeper couldn’t handle.

The last minutes of the match were as nervy as could be. I was a wreck.

Although I felt happy with the outcome by Thursday morning, at the final whistle on Wednesday night all I felt was relief.

The atmosphere in the stadium was again great. Despite being nervous as hell, it was so good to be among a truly supportive crowd.

Arsenal now face a run of tough matches, many of them away from home. We didn’t have any luck on the transfer deadline day bringing in defensive midfielders. We tried for–of all people–the very Douglas Luiz who scored that corner kick. (If you can’t beat ’em?) Aston Villa was not interested in selling.

Today, Aston Villa applied a very similar strategy for Man City as for Arsenal and managed to come away with a 1-1 tie. In addition to being useful for Aston Villa, the tie was useful for Arsenal, as Man City is currently in second place after 6 matches.

Here’s hoping Arsenal can win pretty again. But mostly, here’s hoping we can keep winning.